Clash of Clans product manager Michail Katkoff on retention

Michail Katkoff has PM’d two of the most successful mobile games of all time: Clash of Clans and Angry Birds. To get a sense of how successful Clash is, here are some stats.

  • A decent mobile game hits 10% retention at 30 days (source)
  • Clash of Clans hits 10% retention at 730 days (source at 14:09).
  • Clash of Clans brought in $1.3 BILLION in revenue last year (source).
  • As of this writing, September 15 2016, more than four years after its release date, Clash is still the number 5 highest-grossing game in the App Store.

So maybe this guy Michail knows a thing or two eh? Luckily, he has a great blog where you can take knowledge from his brain and put it in yours. Even more luckily, in this post I’m going to give you some highlights from posts that he’s written. You’re so god damned lucky.

Retention is king

Retention is the foundation for a successful F2P game. Players who keep coming back to the game several times a day, day after day and month after month enable the game as a service model. But creating that drive for players to keep returning is without a doubt the toughest challenge for a game team.

Retention is simply a games most important metric. Successful mid-core titles hold on to players for months, having them play over half a dozen daily sessions and spending well over an hour interacting with the app daily.

Players who set up and pursue goals will retain

In my mind, there’s no better way to retain players than to have them set up goals for themselves. Self-motivated players will be logging in numerous times per day just to achieve that goal. But to create a user base of self-driven players, the game team has to first make players want to become better by rewarding them for progress and punishing for falling behind.

With the desire to improve comes the desire to progress. And desire to progress is extremely powerful, as players will self-create sub-goals for themselves and work to optimize their gameplay. My opinion is that the desire to become better should always be the main goal for every player.

To reach these retention numbers, developers need to make sure players want to progress, then create paths to these goals with an interdependable game economy.

Make players want to be better and set up goals into the horizon. Then, either guide players to these goals via mission structure, or let them create their own sub-goals. Just make sure that every session takes them at least a bit closer to that goal they’ve set up.

Social features drive long-term retention

In my mind, social mechanics should be implemented first and foremost to improve retention.

[Social mechanics should] add to the gameplay, improve overall player experience and make the game feel more alive.

[In Clash of Clans] Resource collection and threat to be looted are the main drivers for short sessions for low-level users, while high-level users are driven back to the game with social features.

When players collaborate with each other in a game they are bound to compare each other’s progress. Comparing progress leads to two kinds of feelings. Firstly, those players who are clearly lagging behind will want to progress and catch those ahead of them. On the other hand, progressed players will feel good about themselves and won’t want to lose the feeling of being ahead and above.

Creating competition between players is another excellent way to have players compare their progress. The problem with competition designs in games is that most of the developers want to get players into the competition phase too early. The best way, in my opinion, is to have players first enjoying the game, then enable social mechanics by acquiring in-game friends, have them collaborate with these friends and only after that incentivize them to compete.

What I’m saying is that you should follow a very simple approach when it comes to social features. First start off by giving your players time to play the game by themselves. Let them learn and enjoy it and have fun, then allow them to turn social. Once they like the game and want their friends to play it as well, you can introduce social mechanics, that let players collaborate. Collaboration should benefit both of the players and occur in a game area where players can show off. Once players are collaborating you can start adding competitive element.

In the end it’s pretty much all about retention and social mechanics are an amazing way to improve especially long term retention.

Short, rewarding sessions allow habit formation

Overlong sessions length is the cardinal sin a mid-core game. As developers, we just tend to get carried away with these games because they are the type of games we love to play. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about a long session. In fact, long play sessions are great indicators of players enjoying the game. But if every session demands several minutes of uninterrupted attention it tends to result in retention problems. If players don’t play the game several times during short brakes around a day, the game won’t turn into a habit. And it’s when you go from a fun game to a habit that you start seeing those incredible six-month retention numbers.

Short median session length is ideal to keep players engaged during the day. But in order to create that deep gameplay, which differentiates mid-core games, a game has to be able to keep players engaged for long sessions as well. Enable sessions where players can go deep into the game strategy, break their goals into sub-goals and most importantly, interact with other players.

Short, accessible and rewarding session should be the main goal.

All of the above quotes are taken from these three posts:


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